The Sonics play April 7 at Gas Monkey Bar and Grill
Most rock ’n’ rollers have called it quits by the time they’ve reached their 60s, preferring to play at small gatherings or for personal enjoyment. Garage rock legends the Sonics are not only completing world tours fifty years after their original heyday, but also emerged from retirement to do it.
After putting out a string of hits in the ’60s, including “Psycho,” “The Witch,” “Boss Hoss” and “Have Love Will Travel,” the band members went their separate ways. For saxophonist and vocalist Rob Lind this meant a different kind of tour in Vietnam, and then a long and successful career as a commercial airline pilot. Over the years the Sonics’ music found its way to a new, young audience, and offers to reunite began to pour in. Initially the band dismissed them.
“We had been away for so long,” Lind says over the phone from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“The airline industry is an all-encompassing career, so I never thought about reuniting. I had to buy a new sax in 2005, because my original instrument had just disappeared. I had no idea that bands like The Fall and the Black Lips had been playing Sonics songs.”
In 2007, however, the Sonics finally gave in and agreed to play two shows in Brooklyn. The current lineup comprises bassist and vocalist Freddie Dennis, drummer Dusty Watson, and two relatively new additions in guitarist Evan Foster and keyboardist Jake Cavaliere.
Since they regrouped and got back out on the road, the Sonics haven’t left, playing for adoring crowds all around the world, recording a new album and even opening for longtime fan Robert Plant, a gig that brought them to the Bomb Factory last spring.
The band’s next Dallas appearance, an April 7 show at Gas Monkey Bar and Grill, follows a string of dates in the Midwest. After leaving Texas, the Sonics will head out for a monthlong tour of Europe, where the Tacoma, Washington-born band arguably has even more clout than they do on their home continent. Then it’s back on the road in the U.S. for the rest of 2017. As expected, this pace of touring can be difficult to maintain.
“I always say I can’t wait to get back on tour, then after a couple of weeks when fatigue sets in, it’s ‘Be careful what you wish for,’” Lind half-jokes.
The return to touring life proved too much for two founding Sonics members, Gerry Roslie and Larry Parypa.
“We had a five-week European tour last year that was just a killer. When we got home, Gerry called me up and said, ‘I just can’t do this anymore.’ And Larry just prefers not to go on the road,” Lind says. “It’s a good situation though, and they will be around for recording when we get back to the studio.”
How does Lind stay motivated and agile enough to keep up the pace? It’s the same reason he joined the band years ago.
“Quite frankly, this is the most fun you can have without having the cops called on you,” Lind says. “I do it because it’s fun. We are a loud, powerful rock ’n’ roll band and that’s what we do every night. I love getting onstage and seeing people singing along and waving their beer bottles at us. If I ever see a room full of people with folded arms and bored looks on their faces, then I would go find something else to do.”
The band also stays interested by incorporating new songs in the setlist and experimenting with arrangements. Lind says their long absence has left them with plenty to catch up on, too.
“When we got back to playing live in ’07, we would go to sound check and ask the tech crew to explain these black boxes to us,” he says, referring to the stage monitors which have become standard over the last few decades. “We always just plugged in and played our instruments without much thought to the particulars.”
The Sonics are also learning the nuances of the recording process for the first time.
“We worked with a producer named Jim Diamond [White Stripes, Dirtbombs] on our last album [2015’s This Is The Sonics]. We were in the studio for over two hours before we ever played a note because Jim was so focused on going through boxes of mics trying to determine what sounded best for each instrument.”
Lind says he and his bandmates are enjoying the opportunity to approach their craft with a new precision, although there was some resistance at first.
“I was playing a background sax part and Jim came over the intercom with some instructions for me. I arrogantly thought to myself, ‘Wait a minute, I’m the sax player here,’” he says. “Instead, I wisely said, ‘OK Jim,’ and played the way he suggested. I went back in the control room to listen, and it turns out he was right. His way was way better than mine.”
The band is excited by the prospect of recording and playing new music, but Lind says they’re well aware that to get the kind of response they want from their audiences, they need to play the hits.
“We know we have to come out and play certain songs,” he says. “It just wouldn’t be a Sonics show without ‘Psycho,’ ‘The Witch,’ ‘Boss Hoss’ or ‘Have Love Will Travel.’”
“The Witch” has a particularly fascinating backstory, which Lind himself only recently became privy to.
“People used to call up the radio stations and request ‘The Witch.’ The DJs would relay this information to the program directors so the stations started to play it, but only after 3 in the afternoon. They didn’t want to play it during the day because they thought the song was evil and would scare the housewives,” he says. “Eventually, we had to tell them that the song wasn’t about witches or the devil. It was just about a girl that was a little mean to her boyfriend.”
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Years later, the band learned that the song had actually held the top position on several stations’ charts, but the program managers had failed to relay that information and declared British Invasion star Petula Clark’s “Downtown” No. 1 instead so as not to stir up controversy among mainstream listeners.
The revelation that they’d had a No. 1 hit was just another surprise for a band with a career full of them.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected to be doing this again at this age, but here I am,” Lind says.
The Sonics, 7 p.m. Friday, April 7, Gas Monkey Bar and Grill, 10261 Technology Blvd. E., $17 to $35, gasmonkeybarngrill.com.